Strategic Planning Part 7: Structure Your Strategic Plan like a Snowman : Successful Nonprofits

Strategic Planning Part 7: Structure Your Strategic Plan like a Snowman

by goldenburggroup

Strategic Planning Part 7: Structure Your Strategic Plan like a Snowman

by goldenburggroup

by goldenburggroup
In the prior blog post of this strategic planning series, we reviewed all the steps for having a great strategic planning board retreat. Now with the board retreat behind you, it’s time to draft your actual strategic plan.

Of course, if your work group and board have completed all the steps outlined in the preceding blog posts, the strategic plan pretty much writes itself.  So this blog post provides tips on structuring your strategic plan, detailed information on each section of the plan, and the ideal length of a strategic plan.

Structure Your Strategic Plan Like a Snow Man:
As with any writing project, you want to start with a structure and outline in mind. A good rule of thumb is to structure your strategic plan like a snowman. And not one of those short, two-snowball figures. I mean a three snow-ball figure like the one below.
The head of the snowman is the smallest but actually defines the figure as being anthropomorphic. Inside the head, you will include an executive summary on the first page and a table of contents on the second page. The executive summary should list the new mission, vision, core values, big bold goal, and strategic annual goals in a pleasing and easy to read format. The table of contents should list the sections inside the other two parts of the snowman.

In the middle – or torso – of the snowman, you will summarize all of the work done by the work group (and the board at the retreat). So you’ll explain the planning process, thoroughly explore the results of your environmental scan, unveil your big bold goal, and the high-level annual goals.

And the base of the snowman will include the work you completed since the board retreat. This work is typically done by the work group with a lot of help from the consultant, and it includes the tactical plan for achieving your goals, a realistic timeline, a multi-year staffing plan, a multi-year projection of income and expense, and an outline of how you will raise the money necessary to implement the strategic plan.

Length of Your Strategic Plan:
Most of the strategic plans I draft are typically very detailed and about 25 to 30 pages.   And the snow man structure – with a small head, mid-size body, and big base – accurately describes the amount of real estate devoted to each of the sections in my plans.

The majority of consultants believe that the plan should be just your goals, strategies, and tactics for achieving those goals, and this approach is a lot less work for the consultant. This simpler plan is sufficient if strategic plans were only internal documents, but most foundation funders, many government funders, and a few major donors will ask for a copy of your strategic plan.

For this reason, the final strategic planning document should support your fundraising efforts by fully demonstrating the process and assumptions in creating the plan. It should also include the planned revenue, expenses, and income for implementing the strategic plan so that funders can assess your implementation progress from year to year.

A more thorough strategic plan also becomes an important part of your organization’s transition plan. After all, newly recruited leadership can study the plan to better understand organization’s history, finances, programs, and long term goals.

                           With this in mind, here is a brief explanation of each
section of the strategic plan:   

Planning Process:
The planning process description provides detail on the work group members, the role of the work group, and of course the stages of the planning process. Essentially, this section summarizes the prior episodes of this bonus break series in about two pages.

Environmental Scan Results
This section thoroughly explains the methodology and results of the environmental scan. Just as the environmental scan fully informed the planning process, the description of the environmental scan should help the reader understand the organization’s history, strengths, challenges, and opportunities. Since the environmental scan is data-rich, this section of the strategic plan will include a number of charts and graphs to help the reader easily absorb this information. These visual graphs can often be copied from the power point slide deck presented at the retreat and pasted directly into the plan itself. Your funders will be impressed by a strong presentation of environmental scan data.

Strategic Goals, Objectives, Tactics and Implementation Timelines
These sections go from the 40,000 foot level (your big bold goal) to the granular level on the ground (quarterly timelines). An example is below:


The strategic goals are often summarized in just one page, and represent the big bold goal as well as the annual goals that lead to achieving the big bold goal. The objectives are big targets you need to meet in order to hit those annual goals. While these high-level goals and objectives were finalized at the board retreat, all of the tactics – those small actions necessary to achieve the bigger goals – were not developed at the board retreat. So the bulk of the planning work in this phase involves a creating quarterly tactical plan that outlines the specific actions to be taken in each quarter.

Staffing Plan
No strategic plan is complete without a thorough understanding of the staff needed to implement it. This staffing plan outlines all of the positions in the organizational chart over the life of a strategic plan. So, if the strategic plan calls for eliminating a program in 2019, that program’s staff positions would be eliminated from the staffing plan in 2019. Of course, the opposite is also true: if the strategic plan creates a new program in 2020, then the staffing plan would include the positions necessary for the new program.

The staffing plan isn’t about the people you have now, it’s about the positions you need to succeed. Sometimes, a work group will discuss who among the current staff will fill new positions, and I will have to remind them that the executive director is responsible for making those decisions. Leadership volunteers are responsible for determining the positions necessary to achieve the plan, but the executive director is responsible for selecting staff.

As part of the staffing plan, we will often conduct some basic salary research to ensure that the current and new positions are compensated in a competitive manner. After all, the organization wants to compete for the best talent possible if it is truly committed to its plan.

Revenue Plan and Fundraising Strategy
The final – and critically important component of your strategic plan is the revenue plan and fundraising strategy. This is a multi-year financial pro forma that outlines specifically how the organization will generate revenue and spend funds to achieve the strategic plan. In addition to existing expenses that will be continued, the revenue plan needs to account for any new facilities, new staff, and new program expenses. Much like the staffing plan, this often requires researching the cost of new facilities, specific consultants, and other resources needed for implementing the plan.

As part of the revenue plan, the plan should also include a fundraising strategy. While not as comprehensive as a full-fledged fundraising plan, the fundraising strategy offers a high-level overview of the fundraising campaigns and sources necessary to fund the growing organization.

Final Board Approval
With a final draft of the plan, you are ready to present the strategic plan to the board for review and approval. Give the board members ample time to review the final draft of the plan and offer a 60- to 90-minute question and answer session prior to the board meeting. This is one of the most important decisions a board will make, and they need to be able to deliberate before approving the strategic direction for the next several years.

Next Blog Post
The next blog post in this series will focus on making the most out of your strategic plan once the board has approved it.

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